Loneliness

The name of the town close to the ranch where the novel is set is Soledad, which translates from Spanish to ‘solitude’, so loneliness is immediately established as an important theme in Of Mice and Men.

Most of the characters on the ranch are lonely. George and Lennie stand out because their friendship means that they are not isolated and this is very unusual, making some others (like the Boss) suspicious of them. Steinbeck shows how the lifestyle that the men lead is very damaging to their relationships, making them lack compassion for others.

The loneliest characters in the book are Candy, Crooks and Curley’s wife. All of these characters are different to the others on the ranch: Candy is older than the others; Crooks is the only black man; and Curley’s wife is the only woman. These factors make the characters isolated and the men on the ranch show no empathy towards them, instead making them more isolated by treating them badly.

Question

How is the theme of loneliness shown in the book?

In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck explores loneliness through:

  • the contrast between George and Lennie’s friendship with the lonely existence of the other men on the ranch
  • the isolation of Candy, Crooks and Curley’s wife

George and Lennie stand out because of their friendship

How does Steinbeck show this?

George and Lennie are the only characters in the novel who have a meaningful relationship. This makes them unique and draws attention to the loneliness of the rest of the characters in the book.

Evidence

Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place... With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.

Analysis

By comparing their situation with others’, George demonstrates that they are very unusual. George uses the pronouns they and we to emphasise how different he and Lennie are from other men who work on ranches.

Characters like Crooks, Candy and Curley’s wife are particularly isolated because they are different

How does Steinbeck show this?

Crooks, Candy and Curley’s wife are the loneliest characters in Of Mice and Men because they are isolated due to their differences. They are separate from the rest of the characters on the ranch.

Evidence

… I ain’t wanted in the bunk house, and you ain’t wanted in my room. (Crooks)

and,

Candy looked for help from face to face.

and,

I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely. (Curley’s wife)

Analysis

Crooks is physically separated from the other workers on the ranch because of his race. This literal isolation makes him angry and bitter towards people when they do approach him, demonstrating the damaging effects of loneliness.

Candy is isolated because of his age and disability, making him less useful on the ranch and therefore insignificant. The lack of reaction to Candy’s pleading look when Carlson wants to kill his dog represents the lack of empathy that the other men feel for those in pain. Candy’s need for a companion is not acknowledged because they are not able to form relationships themselves.

Curley’s wife is the only woman on the ranch and is treated with suspicion by the men because of her flirtatious behaviour. However, she acts this way in order to get attention because of her poor relationship with her husband. Again, the men on the ranch do not feel sympathy for her – despite knowing that Curley is unpleasant – and instead treat her with contempt and don’t speak to her, so she becomes even more desperate for acknowledgement.

Question

How does Steinbeck explore the theme of loneliness in Of Mice and Men?

  • George and Lennie’s friendship is shown to be rare throughout the novel. Even at the end of the book, after seeing their relationship, Carlson cannot understand why George is upset after shooting Lennie (he says to Curley, Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys? as he watches George and Slim leave).
  • Characters like Crooks, Candy and Curley’s wife are particularly isolated in the novel, leading to all of them behaving in strange or unpleasant ways in attempts to alleviate their loneliness. Candy allows his dog to be shot; Crooks is cruel to Lennie when he enters his room; and Curley’s wife flirts with the men on the ranch in an attempt to get attention. This demonstrates the damaging effects of loneliness.